This past February, former Uber employee Susan J. Fowler wrote a bombshell blog post about sexual harassment at the company. As the post spread around the internet like a wildfire, Uber scrambled to contain the situation with mass firings. Eventually, CEO Travis Kalanick was forced to step down.
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In July of this year, Google engineer James Damore wrote an internal memo accusing Google of pursuing workforce diversity through discriminatory policies. Like Fowler's blog post, Damore's memo was shared widely on the internet. It, too, led to a firing — in this case, Damore's own.
These incidents share much in common: They both hinged on issues of workplace diversity. They both resulted in negative PR for the companies involved. And in both cases, the internet — especially social media — played a starring role in delivering the news to the public.
(There are crucial differences too, of course. Damore was one person, whereas Uber's misconduct was widespread and systemic. Google acted much more quickly to address the situation than Uber did, with the latter still in a period of crisis. Furthermore, some have come to Damore's defense in the wake of his firing, whereas you'll hear nary a pro-Kalanick sentiment anywhere.)
The Uber and Google affairs both make clear an oft-overlooked repercussion of the social media age for organizations: While social networking sites can be a boon in terms of marketing, recruiting, and engagement, they can also expose the internal workings of a company to a much wider audience, publicizing scandals that, in past times, may have been dealt with more quietly.
Despite this, few organizations feel they should change their views on how employees should utilize social media, according to a "Voice of the Workplace" survey from the Northern California Human Resources Association (NCHRA) and the employee survey platform Waggl. The survey, which polled more than 20,000 HR professionals, found that only 24 percent of respondents felt their organizations had changed their philosophies on employee social media use in light of recent scandals.
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This may be because the benefits of social media far outweigh the negatives, with increased transparency being a particular boon.
"In the not-too-distant past, it was possible for organizations to keep a pretty tight hold on anything that was said or written about them," says Waggl CEO Michael Papay. "But now, social media makes it possible for each and every employee to express and publish their opinion to a broad audience of people — directly and without mediation from corporate communications, investor relations, the legal team, or anyone else. In addition, sites like Glassdoor have encouraged employees to rank their work experiences the same way they would use Yelp to post a restaurant review. This has forced many organizations to become more transparent, whether they wanted to or not."
The Benefits of Increased Transparency
Increased transparency is great for job seekers, as it gives them a more accurate view of what life at an employer is like before deciding to send in an application or accept an offer. However, transparency also helps organizations themselves.
For starters, transparency drives ethical behavior, according to NCHRA CEO Greg Morton.
"I think given the relative newness of social media, its utilization, and its impact, the numbers from this recent poll should be viewed as a peek at a very volatile world to come where every employee has the pin to a grenade and honesty and ethical behavior in our companies will be a norm to be heeded — or the cause of demise if avoided," Morton says.
Papay cites inclusion as another positive effect of increased organization transparency: "Increased transparency requires an organization to become more inclusive in its communications and decision-making processes. When employees feel that they are being included in major decisions, they typically become more engaged in their work and productivity and morale improve."
For their part, survey respondents were able to submit their own thoughts on the positive outcomes of increased transparency, as well as vote on the responses they most agreed with. The top three responses were:
"Increased trust between company leadership and its employees. Increased trust will drive credibility, accountability, performance, productivity, and fiscal outcomes."
"Increased transparency within the organization has the potential to build stronger unity among all levels of employees, helping to improve communications and understanding."
"Employees will feel more invested in the organization, and leadership will have to practice what they preach about company values. If that happens, a more engaged and productive workforce will emerge."
Below, you can check out an infographic outlining some of the highlights of the survey results: